Sáb. Abr 20th, 2024

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Former NFL player Shareece Wright has identified himself publicly as one of 12 anonymous plaintiffs who accused a former high school athletic trainer of sexually assaulting them while they were minors attending a Southern California high school, according to court documents and interviews.

Wright recently told ESPN’s «Outside the Lines» that he hopes speaking out will «stop it from happening to other kids.»

«The less it’s kept a secret, the harder it is for it to continue to happen,» Wright said.

Wright, 36, was one of six former Colton High School football players who originally sued the Colton Joint Unified School District and former athletic trainer Tiffany Strauss-Gordon in September 2022. The number of plaintiffs has since grown to 12.

Strauss-Gordon, suspended by the district since 2022, has denied allegations raised in the lawsuit and has not been criminally charged. She is the daughter of former Colton football coach Harold Strauss, who died in 2019. Strauss won more than 200 games over three decades as a high school coach. Under his tenure, the Colton team became a football powerhouse and a pipeline to the NFL. In 2011, three Colton players, including Wright, were selected in the NFL draft, the most that year from any high school in the country. Wright was drafted by the Chargers and played in the NFL from 2011 to 2018 for six teams.

Wright told ESPN, and alleged in the lawsuit, that he first got to know Tiffany Strauss, as she was then known, in 2002, during his freshman season at Colton. At the time, he was 15 and she was 21. He alleged that she became increasingly flirtatious, displaying favoritism toward him and giving him a pet nickname, behavior he now recognizes as grooming.

Over the next three years, Wright alleged, Strauss-Gordon touched him inappropriately during treatment sessions and performed oral sex on him in the training room. During his junior year, when Wright was 17, he had multiple sexual encounters with Strauss in the training room, locker room and weight room, he told ESPN. The lawsuit also says he had sex with Strauss during several weekly team dinners at coach Harold Strauss’s home.

«You’ve got football, you’ve got the coach’s daughter, you’ve got a permissive school environment where it’s allowed to happen. I mean, you’ve got sort of a perfect storm of sexual abuse that could be covered up easily,» attorney Morgan Stewart, who represents Wright and eight other plaintiffs, told ESPN.

According to an August 2022 police video, Strauss-Gordon was asked by a police detective why multiple men would make such allegations and responded: «Why do you file a lawsuit? For money.»

«Fundamentally, you have to remember that allegations are just allegations,» Strauss-Gordon’s attorney, Daniel Kolodziej, told ESPN. «I would urge the public to recognize that just because there’s smoke doesn’t mean there’s fire.»

In California, the age of consent is 18 and adults who engage in sexual activity with minors can be prosecuted for statutory rape. The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office told ESPN it did not file charges against Strauss-Gordon because of a lack of sufficient evidence. The Colton Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Stewart told ESPN that an FBI agent and a Department of Justice attorney interviewed one of his clients in April 2023 and were «concerned about the statute of limitations,» but he doesn’t know whether there is an investigation.

The FBI declined to comment on whether they are investigating.

Wright told ESPN that players and coaches openly joked about Strauss-Gordon’s behavior and referred to oral sex as getting the «Tiffany treatment.»

«It was pretty open and obvious what was happening,» said another plaintiff in the lawsuit who declined to be identified. He said he was aware of encounters alleged by Wright while the two were teammates.

After the lawsuits were filed in 2022, the district placed Strauss-Gordon on administrative leave from her job as athletic director at another high school. She remains suspended without pay.

«From the moment the District was presented with the allegations, we immediately took decisive action by placing the party in question on administrative leave, as well as contacting the Colton Police Department,» the district told ESPN in a statement.

ESPN has obtained a police report indicating that school officials knew of allegations against Strauss-Gordon as far back as 2011. In a 2022 interview that was prompted by the civil lawsuit, former high school teacher Vladimira Chavez told Colton police she had heard about alleged sexual behavior in 2011 and had reported it to the district superintendent.

In a 2022 police interview, Strauss-Gordon said she was placed on temporary leave in 2011 during an internal investigation but was allowed to return to work after a meeting with school officials. She said she was never told the specifics of any allegations against her.

«It was like nothing,» she said. «We had the meeting and then that was it. It was like, go back to work.»

John Manly, another attorney on Wright’s case, said the district «did their own investigation, which is the exact opposite of what you’re supposed to do.»

«People in their own institutions rarely find themselves guilty,» Manly said. «Your duty is to report, not investigate.»

Katie Orloff, a district spokesperson, declined to describe the 2011 internal investigation.

«The current district leadership team was first made aware of the allegations through a complaint received on July 7, 2022, and immediately took decisive action and contacted the Colton Police Department,» Orloff said. «We cannot speak to decisions made in 2011 because the district currently has a different leadership team.»

Wright said he began to come to terms with his past only three years ago when he told his mother about what had happened during high school.

«She was like, ‘Son, why you didn’t tell me?’ I’m just like, ‘Ma, I didn’t know. I didn’t know how,'» Wright said.

He said it was his mother’s reaction and concerns about his own sons, ages 9 and 2, that led him to speak publicly.

«Being a dad and having kids and having nieces and nephews that are going to public schools, it just hit home,» Wright said. «I just want to make the conversation comfortable for people to speak up about.»

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